In 2000, the United States of America and Nigeria signed an aviation deal that governs air travel between them. It was called The U.S.-Nigeria Air Transport Agreement. The heart of the agreement was the concept of Open Skies. This meant that airlines from both the US and Nigeria would be granted the freedom to operate flights between any cities within their respective borders. There would be no limitations placed on the number of flights, the routes taken, or the airlines themselves that can participate.

This agreement was anticipated to bring significant advantages to both nations. The Open Skies agreement allowed US carriers to have unrestricted entrance into Nigerian cities and airports. This allows Nigeria to earn from passenger service charges, landings, and parking charges. The agreement, also made provisions for open route rights, unrestricted capacity and frequency of services, a liberal charter system, and open opportunities for code-sharing. Open route rights allow airlines to choose any city pair to fly between, maximizing travel options for passengers. Unrestricted capacity and frequency meant airlines could operate as many flights as they see fit on a particular route, fostering competition and potentially driving down prices. A liberal charter system allowed for more flexible and potentially cheaper charter flights. Finally, open code-sharing would allow airlines to collaborate and offer flights under each other’s brand, expanding travel options for passengers and potentially increasing revenue for airlines.

Theoretically, the U.S.-Nigeria Air Transport Agreement was to foster competition, drive down prices for travelers, and potentially boost trade and tourism. A World Bank study suggests a mere 1% increase in air cargo traffic can lead to a 1.5% increase in bilateral tradeHowever, the agreement remained curiously dormant until recently, about 24 years later, when both countries announced they were re-establishing the aviation deal.

The reasons behind the delay in implementing the agreement are not entirely clear. It is possible that the aviation industries in both countries might not have been fully prepared for the level of competition that operating an Open Skies agreement would introduce. A PwC Nigeria report on Nigeria’s Aviation Industry states that there is a need for strategic investments and regulatory reforms to unlock the full potential of Nigeria’s aviation sector and effectively participate in international agreements like Open Skies. Initially, Nigeria had a 10-year head start to establish routes to the U.S., but Nigerian airlines were not adequately prepared. Virgin Nigeria, one of the biggest carriers, faced challenges stemming from its ownership structure and the complexities of bilateral air service agreements. With no Nigerian airlines going to the US, Nigeria couldn’t take full advantage of the agreement.

The recent revival of the agreement suggests a shift in priorities for both nations. The economic potential of a more open and competitive aviation sector might have become more apparent. Between 2010 and 2020, passenger traffic in Nigeria grew by an average of 10% annually. In 2021, the total number of international passengers who passed through Nigerian airports went up by 57.61%. Nigeria has also made advancements in aviation safety regulations. Nigeria attained also Category 1 status from the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2010, allowing Nigerian airlines to fly directly to the United States. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has improved its Universal Safety Oversight Audit score from 57% in 2006 to 85%.

However, there are still concerns that the Open Skies agreement does not benefit Nigeria as much as it does the US. Currently, there are no Nigerian airlines operating flights to the US. While over 70% of international departures from the United States fly to its open skies partners, including Nigeria. However, Nigeria remains the U.S. second-largest trading partner in Africa. In 2022, U.S. goods and services trade with Nigeria totaled an estimated $10.6 billion. Nigeria exported goods valued at $5.4 billion, which primarily consisted of oil and gas. Recently, the United States Consulate in Nigeria announced plans to expand bilateral trade and investment between the United States and Nigeria. 

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